The first big “sell”…

Yesterday, I pulled the trigger on a 14-piece trade that could succinctly be described as the first “sell” move of 2016. That is to say, the first trade aimed toward improving a team in the future more so than the present.

The deal, agreed to with the Preseason Double Stuffs, is outlined and analyzed by third parties right here.

First things first: though there are a bunch of pieces in this trade, many of them are superfluous. Some guys went to the Double Stuffs that would have been cut from my end to make room for new guys and I received one player back that they would have cut. In my mind, the deal was this:

I sent 1B Miguel Cabrera ($71), SP Sonny Gray ($49), SP Nick Tropeano ($1), C Carlos Ruiz (free agent) and a third round pick in 2017 for LF/RF Jorge Soler ($14), prospects CF Brett Phillips, CF/RF Ian Happ, 1B Cody Bellinger, and a first round pick in 2017.

Right out of the gate, my decision to sell was really pretty simple: my team is last in record, last in points, and has two major injuries (Carlos Carrasco and Tyson Ross) that make digging out of that hole extremely difficult. If those two guys are healthy, I’m not selling yet (and frankly, my team is probably significantly better¬†to the point that selling parts hasn’t even entered my head).

Our championship bracket allows only four teams in, so I saw my team as being in a deep hole five plus weeks in and needing to jump 12 teams to get into that bracket.¬†That’s a tall order, particularly without the pitchers I mentioned before for at least a few more weeks (I’m not sure Ross makes it back this year, but who knows?).

When I ultimately decided to sell and set out to do so, I’m pretty sure I told everyone I spoke to that I wanted multiple pieces for any of my impact players. And my preference was to check multiple boxes. By that, I mean a minor league piece, a major league piece, a draft pick piece, and/or an auction cash piece. I didn’t need all four, but I wanted a multi-faceted return.

Without divulging private conversations, I can tell you that almost every team I spoke to was balking at that. Draft picks were being viewed at a premium and most teams seemed unwilling to offer more than one prospect in return.

The obvious question is: does waiting a while longer change that? If in the next month a contending team suffers a few injuries, do negotiations change? Probably. The flip side of that is, with Gray coming off three rough starts, he could conceivably just be broken and worth nothing in a month’s time. He’s suffered some velocity decreases recently and he’s a little guy, so that’s worrying. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. He’s a top-20 pitcher two years running and $49 for that type of performer is a bargain. But still, there’s a chance that he’s broken and the risk of waiting to find out just didn’t seem worth it.

Side note with regards to approaching Gray with trepidation: I don’t trust a word Billy Beane says and if Gray does end up getting traded this season, I think most logical destinations sting his value. Going to the Dodgers isn’t so bad, but the Red Sox? I don’t like that.

It’s also possible that a month from now, two or three other teams see the walls close in on their 2016 and enter the market. I’d rather just be the first buyer.

Anyway…

I look at this deal as getting five pieces back that check three boxes: minor league piece(s), major league piece, draft pick piece.

In Phillips, Happ, and Bellinger, I see three top-100 prospects — Phillips and Happ are, at least in my mind, top-50 types — that are relatively close to the majors. In our minor league draft, these guys went 25th, 57th, and 104th overall. MLB.com ranks them 29th, 72nd, and 97th on their prospect list. Baseball America says 57th, 87th, and has Bellinger way up at 54th.¬†Lists are what they are. Take them or leave them, whatever.

I don’t need these guys this year, so not debuting until 2017 is fine. Coupled with my recent addition of Clint Frazier, it’s conceivable that I have an entire outfield in 2017-18 that costs essentially nothing.

The low cost of prospects and the freeing up of over $100 of budget is an added bonus of this deal. In that sense, I could argue that my fourth box, auction cash, was checked as well. The Preseason Double Stuffs are now well over budget for 2017, which means there’s $100+ worth of cuts floating out there. Look at the Rocky Mountain Oysters as well. That team is also well over budget for 2017. It’s too early to put too much stock in future budgets, I think, but what I’m getting at¬†is, next year, I could have a shot at buying Miggy back, or at least buying back a few players that add up to Miggy because other teams will be in a position where they’re forced to make drastic cuts to keep those high salaried players.

As for Soler, he’s still just 24 years old and ZiPS/Steamer project him for a .322/.319 wOBA the rest of the season. Coming into the year, ZiPS pegged him¬†for a .333 wOBA and 17 homers. Playing time is a major concern for him, obviously, but a player with those numbers is useful. Maybe he gets sent down to AAA to get regular at-bats, maybe he gets traded, who knows? I think he’s a gamble worth taking. As Jonny pointed out in reviewing this deal, if we did our auction a year earlier, Soler likely goes for $30-$40 based on his performance the year prior, age, and upside. I mean, Byron Buxton went for $32 and his wOBA at the major league level is .066 points lower than Soler’s (small sample size, I know).

The last piece coming my way is a first round draft pick which, if the season ended today, would be fifth overall. Of course, adding Cabrera, Gray, and even Ruiz to improve the catching situation a bit likely improves the Preseason Double Stuffs enough to worsen that pick — perhaps¬†significantly. The pick could end up anywhere. Either way, I’ve now secured myself two picks in the top-16 and four in the top-32, so when our minor leagues expand by five slots, I’m in a¬†more favorable position. (Aside: I’ve got a 3rd rounder that I’d like to attach a useful player to in exchange for a 1st or possibly 2nd rounder, so get in touch if that’s something that might interest you.)

So where does my team go from here?

Offensively, a week from now I get Alex Rodriguez back and he slides into a UT spot, effectively replacing Cabrera in my lineup. He’s a lesser hitter, but I’m not sure the gap between them is going to be super noticeable given our head-to-head format. ZiPS says there’s a .042 difference in wOBA between them the rest of the way, which is significant but not disastrous.

My offense has a lot of similar, productive players — Nick Markakis, Corey Dickerson, Michael Saunders, Mike Napoli — that have made choosing a daily lineup difficult. I’ve had points on my bench instead of in my lineup a few times just from the coin falling on heads instead of tails, essentially. A fringe benefit now, I suppose, is having fewer choices and being able to just ride a core group of players. I’m only thinking of this now, it certainly wasn’t a driving force in doing a deal.

My pitching, which was supposed to be my strength, is probably going to suck, but it has sucked already anyway. As of today, I’ve lost more points to home runs allowed than any other team and I’m dead last in net pitching points by more than 100. Eventually Carrasco and hopefully Ross return and there’s a lot of positive regression due — the last I checked, my SPs’ HR/9 was somewhere north of 1.70 which just isn’t a thing that happens — but ouch.

Like I said, I do expect Gray to get it together, so not having him around when/if that happens will sting some. Tropeano would have been useful, but he was still likely a match-up play, as his 4.90 FIP and 1.71 HR/9 (with just a 13% HR/FB rate) alludes. And hopefully one or both of Blake Snell and Jake Thompson find their way into a major league rotation this summer anyway.

I’m also not sure at this juncture if there’s another big move in the pipeline. And by that, I mean whether or not Johnny Cueto ($60) or Joey Votto ($70) will get moved.

On Votto, I suspect he will not. He is available, but I never had it in my plans to purge both he and Miggy, so the offer would have to be compelling. He’s greed¬†protected in 2017 by virtue of being one of the 30 highest paid players, so he’ll get his $2 raise to $72 and be perfectly keepable as an offensive anchor.

Selling Cueto, on the other hand, is a more likely option, if only because pitchers are pitchers and in the sense that they are all ticking time bombs, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for them to get closer and closer to going off on a roster that isn’t competing. But I really don’t like losing. I want to keep competing. With Cueto, who is the 7th best starting pitcher based on points per start as of this morning, my team¬†can at least compete weekly, even if it’s futile in the grand scheme of things. Without him, my pitching floor is terrifyingly low until Carrasco comes back. And I’d absolutely love to have him back as a staff ace in 2017.

(So as I was looking up Cueto’s points, I noticed that he’s second overall in points for starting pitchers. He’s also started eight games, while most have started just seven. Anyway, Clayton Kershaw is predictably number one. He’s also started eight games. But get this: Kershaw has 128 more points than Cueto. 128! In the same number of starts! Jose Altuve is the top scoring hitter and he’s 113.4 points behind the Dodgers’ ace. My goodness, Clayton Kershaw is not of this Earth. He is so good that I am going to end this post that has absolutely nothing to do with him on a note about him.)

Baseball’s Best Leadoff HItters

Having a reliable leadoff hitter is important once a game. But these guys also get the most opportunities at the plate so you better make sure that guy can hit in any situation, as well as being a spark plug in the 1st inning. Every team has a different approach with their leadoff hitter.  Some managers just slot their fastest player at the top of their lineup, while other managers make sure whoever is leading off, has a high on base percentage.

You will have a hard time finding any fantasy baseball scoring system that ranks anyone above the Houston Astros Jose Altuve.  His .305/.400/.611 slash has let to 20 runs scored, 13 RBI and 9 stolen bases after just one month.  On top of that, he has 17 XBH, including six home runs.

Right behind Altuve, you find Dexter Fowler hitting .347 to begin the season with 13 XBH. ¬†Fowler’s 17 walks drawn has led to a .474 OBP.

Mookie Betts has been a bit of a disappointment, owning a .266 BA and just 5 walks drawn, but he has managed to score 19 runs while driving in 17.

Ian Kinsler and Jean Segura are the only leadoff hitters with 30+ hits, but Kinsler’s has yet to find his power with just 8 XBH (4 HRs) while Segura’s Diamondbacks teammates have struggled to knock him home as he has crossed the plate just 12 times, including four home runs.

Over his last 10 games, Logan Forsythe has seen his BA rise from .250 up to .341 thanks to three 3 hit games, and three 2 hit games.

dgLeadoff

Stats via FanGraphs

Musing on positional scarcity and age…

I always feel compelled at the beginning of these posts to remind the rest of the league: I swear, I’m not trying to sway your personal valuations or opinions. I just want to riff on fantasy baseball. If I happen to use a player on your team as an example and view him unfavorably, oops. I would hope we’re all capable of coming to our own conclusions. It’d be pretty boring if we all had exactly the same valuations.

So, having said that…¬†how valuable are good-not-great¬†players at super top heavy positions? Or positions that aren’t even top heavy, but rather mediocre all throughout?

Two positions immediately jump to mind here, and that is catcher and shortstop. Let’s look at¬†shortstops.

Through nearly three full weeks, here are your top five overall scorers with the salary they went for at auction:

shortstops
Carlos Correa was our league’s highest paid shortstop at $81, so it’s nice that he’s pictured here. He was also the fourth highest paid hitter in the league, which means he’s being paid to be an absolutely, unquestioned transcendent talent and fantasy producer.

The obvious thing that jumps out is that four shortstops who were practically free either at auction or in our minor league draft currently sit atop the landscape at the position. In fact, Trevor Story, Jean Segura, Aledmys Diaz, and Eugenio Suarez cost just 11.1% of what Correa costs combined.

Granted, we’re only 19 days into our fantasy schedule. But our regular season is 148 days long, so we’re already over 12% of the way through the season. No one would be surprised if Correa ends up as his position’s best producer by the end of the season, but what we have so far shines an interesting¬†light on the shortstop group. It has paid to not pay for these guys.

Behind Correa in terms of salary at shortstop are Xander Bogaerts ($58), Corey Seager ($54), and Troy Tulowitzki ($46). Bogaerts ranks ninth in scoring, Seager ranks 28th, and Tulowitzki is 29th.

For the sake of argument, let’s just look at those three guys, whose average salary is $52.70, or $53 to simplify.¬†Of course, no one went for $53 at auction, but we did have¬†Francisco Liriano go for $54 and a couple¬†go for $52: Kyle Schwarber and Edwin Encarnacion. Some big names and reliable fantasy producers that cost in the mid-to-high¬†$40 range: Cole Hamels, Justin Upton, George Springer, Sonny Gray, Chris Davis, Jose Altuve.

Hypothetically, if that list of players played the same position as Bogaerts, Seager, and Tulowitzki, would they have gone for less? I’d argue not. There are pitchers mixed in, so the positional view is wonky, but what if the shortstops were left fielders instead? Is Seager getting $54 to play the outfield? Hell, right fielder Matt Kemp cost $11. If Seager played the same spot, are you really paying him $43 more? Go look at Kemp’s last two years worth of stats before answering, because they’re¬†likely to be better than you think.

In terms of having ever accomplished anything worth banking on, only Tulo has done it out of this group for more than a single season, but his age and injury concerns chew up some of his value.

The argument I’m making is that Bogaerts and Seager had “being a shortstop” baked pretty heavily into their price. Age was baked in there too, I’m sure, but whatever. Bogaerts was the top scoring shortstop in our format a year ago, so good for him and all, but Jhonny Peralta ($7) was number two and Brandon Crawford ($14) was number three. Peralta being hurt to start the year is a wrinkle, but those guys got pretty heavily punished for not being 23-years-old and presumably keepable for a decade. Maybe age was an even bigger factor than position?

Speaking of Bogaerts and 2015: he scored 810.5 points last year and yes, he led the way for shortstops. But compared to all other hitters, he ranked 55th. The two guys below him: Nick Markakis ($4) and Brandon Belt ($12). The two guys above him: Evan Longoria ($20) and David Peralta ($17).

So you could have literally bought the four hitters directly surrounding Bogaerts in 2015 net points and still had $5 left over!

Also, while Bogaerts was the 55th highest scoring hitter last year, he’s the 17th highest paid hitter this year. He’s also not priced to be immune from greed and his salary is going to grow by $2 a year. So… yikes.

Just as easily as it is to envision that $81 Correa being tops at short in August, it’s not crazy to see Bogaerts and Seager in the top five or even three. But it also seems fair to suggest that even if these guys lead the charge at their position, they’ll come out behind in the greater landscape of hitters at large.

Last year, Bogaerts averaged 40.525 points per week as the top shortstop. The 16th highest scoring shortstop, Erick Aybar ($3), averaged 27.325 points per week. So a 13.2 weekly edge between the best possible “starting” shortstop and the worst. (I grant you, this is a bit primitive. It assumes the top 16 scorers are spread across each of the 16 teams, it ignores platoons, guys got hurt and that screws up their net output, etc. I get it.)

Crush Davis, who you’ll recall went for less money and was just the second best right fielder (but also has 1B eligibility) behind MVP Bryce Harper, averaged 55.835 points per week. Kole¬†Calhoun ($10), the 16th best RF, averaged 38.805 points per week, a difference of 17.03 between second best and 16th.

So, through that lens, you’re better off just having the better overall player in Davis than you are having the top guy at a weak position. Having Davis instead of Bogaerts, again in this admittedly simplified example, gives you a 4+ point weekly edge over the worst possible starter at each¬†position.

Starting Davis/Aybar gets you 83.16 a week. Starting Bogaerts/Calhoun gets you 79.33. Also, the total cost of Davis and Aybar is lower than the cost of Bogaerts and Calhoun by $19, meaning that, at least theoretically, not overpaying for perceived positional scarcity affords you more resources to help your team.

Personally, I like to view players across their broader peer groups: pitchers against other pitchers, hitters against other hitters. Yes, a player may be the third best shortstop or the fifth best catcher, but that ranking is not interchangeable across positions.

Buster Posey is so good, he does not have a peer group at the catcher¬†position. He is a tier, the two tiers below him are filled with chirping crickets and sawdust, and then other guys start falling in line after that. Yeah, you’d like to have whoever is second or third best, but if you have to settle for that 16th guy, it probably won’t be overly painful.¬†The difference is negligible.

Swinging a Hot Stick in April

There is nothing better than drafting a player who gets off to a hot start, like Justin Upton hitting 12 home runs in April of 2013. ¬†However, the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important to remember that sometimes you need to know when sell a player at peak value. ¬†But that is different discussion for another day. ¬†Let’s focus in on the¬†players that have dominated the first month of the season over the last three years.

You Won’t Believe Who is #6 On This Cool Spring Breeze List of Hot Sizzling Pitchers

Since 2013, we have seen a decline in players scoring 150 points in April – from 53 down to just 23 last year.

quickstart

Anthony Rizzo is the only other player to score 150 points in each of the last three Aprils, but has not totaled 500 points.  Jose Altuve and Chris Davis have score more points than Rizzo, but each had a season where they failed to score 150 points.

There is one name on that list that jumps out in a group of future Hall of Famers – Jed Lowrie.

He got off to a hot start in 2013, with 14 XBH in the month of April. Lowrie had another quick start in 2014, with eight doubles and two home runs, drawing 20 walks, In 2015, Jed hit .300 with four doubles and four home runs.  His 12 walks led to a .432 OBP.  Unfortunately, his season lasted just 69 games due to injury and the Astros promoted this kid named Carlos Correa.

Over the past three seasons, Lowrie has a triple slash of .313/.425/.508 with 23 doubles and nine home runs.

Now a member of the Athletics, Lowrie is slated to bat second and play 2B according to RosterResource.com.

2014

Troy Tulowitzki had the greatest April in recent memory in 2014, totaling 262.3 fantasy points.  With seven home runs that month, Tulo hit .381 with nine doubles and a triple (.762 SLG) while drawing 21 walks, leading to a .495 OBP.

2013

In 2013, Justin Upton and Chris Davis each scored over 250 points.  Upton hit 12 home runs that month, despite striking out 30 times.  He only hit 14 more HRs that year, eight in August.  Davis totaled 17 XBH in April of 2013,  He followed up nine home runs in April with 10 in May and 12 in June en route to 37 home runs before the MLB All-Star Game.

Last season saw the fewest number of player score 150 points in April.

2015

 

2016 Auction Review – TBD

TBD

tbd

Is their team name to be determined, or does TBD stand for something else? We may never know. Anyway during the auction draft do you know that moment when you are kind of poking around looking at the other team to see where they’re at. TBD looks great looking at that list top down. Until you go down. They punted pitchers so hard that I had to take several looks. There’s a lot here to discuss, probably the most fun roster to look at.

Hitters – Outstanding

Yep, I had to give it to someone. 1-10 the hitters here are just outstanding. Now, Matt Wieters had not been flagged for a wuss injury again at the time of the draft so we will pretend he’s okay. Warning, fantasy all-star list incoming: Eric Hosmer, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Troy Tulowitzki, David Peralta, JD Martinez, Miguel Sano, phew. Power, walks, contact, everything. The floor with this line up is so damn high that its impossible to ignore. If you have to nitpick, I can say that I don’t love Pillar in centerfield, but I have a feeling that will be solved at some point. Perhaps Pillar turns into a fantasy starter. Either way, I also don’t love spending $100 on short stops, but it¬†looks like it could work out well here. There’s a chance that Sano ends up finding a position which helps this line up even more.

Pitchers –¬†Whoops

Oh Christ. Really? I mean Phil Hughes is probably the most reliable starter here. Every other guy in that long list of eleven pitchers is someone I’m starting and praying each time. That’s a lot of prayers. Lets imagine that we are¬†in a bar and talking with a buddy who knows enough about sports to not be a complete dumb ass and you are going over roster? Andrew Heaney… Yeah he could be good this year. Jimmy Nelson, yeah he seems like he could be good this year. Edinson Volquez, I mean he’s probably alright. Hyun-jin Ryu, he’s still pitching? Oh he’s recovering from injury? Is he healthy? Well I guess if he’s healthy he’s probably good. Jonathan Gray, well when he’s not pitching in Colorado. You see where I’m going here? I’m not sure Derek Holland, Jorge Lopez, Hector Santiago, Wily Peralta, and Chris Heston are recognizable to your bar buddy so we won’t ask. I’m afraid that if TBD got three above average starters from this group, it would have to be considered a raging success, and that’s not good enough. Maybe there is something in the bullpen…Well TBD¬†drafted three relievers I guess.

Depth –¬†Uh-oh

Well, first off, those four right fielders only qualify for right field. Two of them are rookies. Tulo has to be slotted for the utility slot so his short stop advantage gets washed away. Enrique Hernandez covers a lot of spots, but he does not start daily for the Dodgers. I like Chris Carter, but not enough. The pitching depth doesn’t exist. There’s plenty of bullets to grab depth on this roster, but right now it is ugly as sin.

Why 2016 would be bad…¬†

Thigns are ugly if any less than two starting pitchers are viable from the group. If they don’t find three regular SPs, TBD’s¬†season is over. If Kris Bryant isn’t worth $75, or if both short stops fail to be transcendent hitters. The season is just over. They went all in on the hitters, I love them, but they have to show up. There is a real threat for this pitching staff to score below 100 points on a weekly basis. Considering a good weekly score should be above 500 or 600. That’s way to much to ask of any line up.

Why 2016 would be¬†good…¬†

Luck will happen here, before April seven or eight of the starters show their competency and have reliable roles. TBD then is able to trade one of them to someone else desperate for pitching and get a nice piece. TBD then is also able to cut the others to pick up depth elsewhere. Meanwhile Seager and Tulo end up being top 30 hitters overall. Kris Bryant challenges for MVP because of his bat. The hitters can hit the ceiling easily enough, just a matter of the pitchers climbing from the mud.